EDITORIAL: Political party conventions

Remember when they actually had a meaning?

By:The Manville News
   With the Republican National Convention coming up in Philadelphia, we can’t help feeling a twinge of nostalgia for the good old days – when political conventions were real events, full of suspense and drama, as opposed to packaged, made-for-television yawners.
   We find ourselves thinking back to 1960, when the roll call came down to the very last votes from Wyoming before the Democrats gathered in Los Angeles knew they had chosen U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts to be their presidential nominee.
   And to 1964, when a young NBC reporter, while being forcibly removed from the floor of the Republican National Convention at San Francisco’s Cow Palace, signed off, "This is John Chancellor, somewhere in custody…" before sending viewers back to Chet Huntley and David Brinkley "up in the booth."
   That same 1964 gathering featured a series of riveting battles between the Rockefeller-Scranton forces and the Goldwater wing of the GOP – all spontaneous, all broadcast live for the nation to witness – over issues ranging from the party platform to voting procedures to credentials of delegates. Meanwhile, in Atlantic City, it was a bitter fight over credentials that produced real, live drama among the Democrats, spilling from Convention Hall out onto the Boardwalk, as competing delegations from Mississippi – one white, one black – vied for the right to be seated at the convention.
   And who can forget 1968? The Tet Offensive in February, followed by the assassinations of Martin Luther King in April and Robert Kennedy in June, were mere prelude to the cataclysmic events that unfolded in August, when the Democratic National Convention in Chicago precipitated rioting in the streets, and produced one of the most dramatic live news events in American history.
   We wouldn’t wish a repeat of 1968 on any city or any political party. But there was a sense that year, as there was in earlier years, that the convention of a major political party was an occasion not just for choosing a presidential candidate but for assembling different people from different walks of life and different parts of America to discuss and debate the issues, tackle pressing problems, air their philosophical and ideological differences and define the party’s and the nation’s direction for the next four years.
   Since 1968 – perhaps because of 1968 – that doesn’t happen at political conventions anymore. There is little discussion or debate, less dissent and absolutely no spontaneity. Today’s conventions are punctiliously produced performances of party puffery, scripted down to the last second. They’ve gotten so boring that even the television networks don’t want to cover them.
   And who can blame them? The proliferation of party primaries has removed all suspense from the presidential nominating process; the nominees of both parties are now known long before the conventions begin, and the roll call of states is a mere formality. (Political junkies may still get goose bumps when the ceremony begins – "Mr. Chairman, the Great State of Alabama, home of the Camellia and the Crimson Tide, where the Great Southern Longleaf Pine stands watch over our glorious and proud heritage, is proud to cast …" – but most viewers find the ritual less than compelling and flick the remote to reruns of "I Love Lucy.")
   As the Republicans head for Philadelphia, and the Democrats start packing for Los Angeles, we’re sure everyone will have a grand time at their 2000 conventions. For our part, we’ll stay at home, maybe watch a speech or two on TV and think longingly about those memorable convention years of yore – like 1924, when it took the Democrats 103 ballots to nominate John W. Davis for president.
   Now there was a convention.